Russia halts seal hunt
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2009:
MOSCOW, OTTAWA–Russian minister of natural resources Yury
Trutnyev on March 11, 2009 told the world that Russia has halted
hunting seals under one year old on the frozen White Sea.
“This bloody hunting is from now on banned in our country,
as in most developed countries,” Trutnyev told media.
Trutnyev described the ban as “an important measure to
preserve Russian biodiversity.” The recent White Sea quota of about
35,000 seals per year was about a tenth the size of recent Atlantic
Canadian sealing quotas, but amounted to a third of the White Sea
seal population. The White Sea seal herd has reportedly declined by
95% since it was first surveyed in 1928. However, the first herd
estimate, produced in the early years of the Communist era to assess
the potential for economic expolitation, may have been grossly
Marine biologist Masha Voront-sova, a longtime critic of the
White Sea seal hunt, called the ban “a fantastic achievement.”
Vorontsova heads Moscow office of the International Fund for Animal
Momentum toward the ban built, recalled a written statement
from the Moscow-based animal rights group VITA, after VITA members
in March 2008 took a delegation of Russian celebrities to witness the
annual seal pup massacre.
“Countless TV clips that followed the event led to the
Russian ban,” said VITA. Early indications of an eventual positive
response from the Kremlin included an award presented to VITA by the
Russian ministry of natural resources for producing the “Best
Ecological Project of 2008.”
Continued VITA, “On January 16, 2009,” nearly two months
before Trutnyev’s announcement, “the Federal Agency for Fisheries
issued an order banning the slaughter. This decision was confirmed by
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin.”
The Russian state newspaper Rossisskaya Gazeta reported that
Putin on February 26, 2009 told a cabinet meeting that he personally
considers seal hunting a “bloody industry” that “clearly should have
been banned long ago.”
Trutnyev disclosed the end of the White Sea seal hunt a week
after the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer
protection committee on March 2, 2009 voted 25-7 to prohibit the
import of seal products into the 27 European Union member nations.
The bill exempts seal products made “for cultural, educational or
ceremonial purposes” by the Inuit people of northern Canada.
“The full European Parliament is to vote on the ban at a
April 1 plenary session in Brussels. The measure also has to be
approved by EU governments before it can be implemented,” explained
Oliver Moore of the Toronto Globe & Mail.
“I’m very disappointed that elected officials in Europe are
going against World Trade Organization rulings and legal opinions,”
Rob Cahill of the Canadian Fur Institute told media.
Cahill hinted that Canada will appeal to the WTO to try to
overturn a European Union ban on seal pelts, if the ban is adopted.
As if in defiance of world opinion, Canadian fisheries
minister Gail Shea on March 21, 2009 increased the 2009 Atlantic
Canada sealing quota to 338,200, 55,000 more than in 2008, but
27,000 fewer than the 365,000 seals who were killed in 2004, the
highest total of the past half century.
Putin’s condemnation of sealing came as both an indirect
endorsement of the proposed European Union legislation, and a slap
“The words of a man often accused of using military force to
quash dissent in areas of Russia with separatist leanings clearly
packed a punch–and they have seemingly left Canada even more
isolated,” wrote Michael McKiernan of the Toronto-based National
Post. “Although Putin has yet to indicate whether his sympathies
extend far enough to copy the European Union approach and ban
imports, his stance has pushed Canada further into the proverbial
“Anti-sealing advocates dispute the size of the Russian
market for Canadian seal pelts, but a Newfoundland processor said in
2007 that the country was the leading customer for his products,
with China not far behind,” wrote Moore of the Globe & Mail.
VITA noted that “The ban applies only to baby seals. Now,
on the eve of the hunting season for greycoats, young animals whose
coats are no longer white, VITA and other animal protection
activists are determined to obtain a ban on the commercial killing of
all young seals. With this aim, VITA and the Living Nature Club on
March 10, 2009 organized a flight for journalists to the White Sea.
“We want the journalists to see for themselves that seal
watching is a unique kind of tourism which is already successful and
in terms of jobs is an effective alternative to the two-week
slaughter,” explained VITA coordinator Alexey Skrobanskiy of
Arkhangels, the major seaport on the White Sea.
Added VITA president Irina Novozhilova, “We are delighted
with the government ban; it is an unprecedented victory for public
opinion. The first step has now been taken. However, we want to
point out to the government that the commercial slaughter of
greycoats is of absolutely no use as a way of ensuring an income for
local residents; indeed, not only is it unethical, it is also
Explained the VITA written statement, “The commercial
slaughter of seals in the White Sea is carried out nowadays by
Norwegian companies with the financial backing of Norwegian
investors. The local Russian workers are paid a pittance. It seems
to us that Russia has better things to do than supply the people of
Norway with employment and Norwegian businessmen with profits.”
Unable to gain a Parliamentary majority without significant
support from Atlantic Canada, all major Canadian political parties
have strongly backed the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt since it was
revived after a 10-year suspension in 1994.
Noting growing global opposition to the seal hunt, however,
Canadian Senator Mac Harb on March 3, 2009 broke ranks with his own
Liberal Party to introduce a private member’s bill to halt sealing.
The bill quickly died from lack of a second.
“There was silence. Total silence! I was amazed that not
one of my colleagues, from any one of the political parties, would
even want to debate the issue,” Harb told A.G. Sulzberger of The New
But the Harb bill had political fallout. On March 5, 2009,
the ruling Conservative Party conceded that it had improperly used
federal funding to distribute three press releases, two of them from
fisheries minister Gail Shea, attacking an alleged Liberal “hidden
agenda” against the seal hunt.
World Society for the Protection of Animals board president
Dominic Bellemare helped to form the Conservative Party via merger of
two older parties in 2003, and ran unsuccessfully for Parliament as
a Conserv-ative in 2008. However, while WSPA officially opposes the
Atlantic Canadian seal hunt, Bellemare has apparently never opposed
it on the public record, and has refused to say whether he supports
or opposes it in response to questions from ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Animal Rights Activist Network founder John Carmody, of
Limerick, Ireland, on March 17, 2009 hoped to have ended waffling
by Irish environment minister John Gormley on the proposed European
Union sealing ban. “The Irish government have today signaled their
support for a total E.U. trade ban on seal products, with no
loopholes and no exemptions,” e-mailed Carmody, after orchestrating
a week-long campaign of e-mails, letters, and calls asking Gormley
to commit to supporting the European Union anti-sealing bill as
Approximately 100 sealing opponents organized by the Spanish
animal rights group Equanimal on March 15, 2009 held a nude and
nearly nude protest in central Madrid to rally support for the
proposed E.U. seal product import ban.
Other anti-sealing demonstrations were held as far away as
Multan, Pakistan, reported Animal Save Movement Pakistan president
Anticipating that the European Union bill will pass, and
that the importance of China as the last remaining major purchaser of
Canadian seal pelts will increase, the Hong Kong SPCA and Humane
Society International in March 2009 sent actress and singer Karen Mok
Man-wai to witness the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt.
This predictably infuriated the Hong Kong Fur Federation,
reported Hazel Parry of the South China Morning Post.
John F. Robins, campaign consultant for the Scottish
organization Animal Concern, meanwhile sought to draw attention to
seal hunting along the coast of Scotland.
“As many as 5,000 seals are legally killed every year by
Scottish aquacultural and fishery interests,” said Robins, seeking
to add language to a pending omnibus Marine Bill that would prohibit
killing seals in Scotland and Scottish waters.
“The Scottish Government wants to use the new Marine Bill to
tinker with the situation and bring in a few rules regarding the
shooting of seals,” Robins explained. “We only require one rule and
that is to make it illegal to shoot seals. The Scottish seal
slaughter shames our nation and must be stopped.”